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A shofar teacher aims to strike the right note
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A shofar teacher aims to strike the right note

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Shofar blower Gary Eisenberg is a stickler for getting things right.

As he led a workshop on a recent Sunday morning to train “a new generation of shofar blowers” at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange, he wanted to make sure his trainees had the right technique and followed the letter of the law as well.

“Right side, right side — the shofar should be slightly to the right side,” he told seven-year-old Eitan Laub, his youngest student.

“Make your terumitin [beats] a little shorter. Okay. Relax your lips. Start over,” he said to David Cohen, an adult member of the group. Later Eisenberg instructs Cohen: “Don’t puff your cheeks. Let your tongue hit the back of your lips. Each shevarim should be two and half seconds. Okay, a little longer. There you go! That’s what it’s supposed to sound like!”

Whether it’s sounding the nine rapid blasts known as teruah or the three “broken” notes of the shevarim, Eisenberg acknowledged that he is a perfectionist.

“I like to be able to hear the shofar blown correctly,” he said.

The workshop was planned to coincide with the approach of Elul, the month when the ram’s horn is traditionally sounded every day in preparation for the High Holy Days. It is of course also blown on Rosh Hashana and at the end of Yom Kippur. The workshop began July 15 and has been held every Thursday night and Sunday morning after minyan. Elul this year began the evening of Aug. 18.

“In some ways, shevarim is the hardest to learn but the easiest to blow,” Eisenberg told Cohen, who was having some difficulty on this particular day. “It takes time,” he encouraged him.

Later he pointed out that sometimes, actually, the hardest note to blow is the first, when the anticipation of the crowd can rattle the ba’al tekiah’s concentration, and one doesn’t really know if the sound will come out.

But every time Eisenberg raised the shofar to his lips, a gorgeous tone erupted out of the horn.

Eitan’s father reminded his young son — in a baseball hat and flip flops, tzitzit flowing below his Tim Tebow T-shirt — to stand up straight when he blows the shofar and not to lean against anything.

The boy brought the shofar to his lips and an unexpectedly rich, deep tone came forth. He smiled. “I love blowing the shofar,” he had earlier told a visitor.

Still, even if he gets everything down perfectly, he’ll have to wait: One must be 13 to sound the shofar during services in an Orthodox shul, and over 30 and married to do it during the integral Musaf service on Rosh Hashana.

But it is never too early to start learning, as Eitan illustrated by attempting shevarim.

“It’s a bit tricky,” said Eisenberg. “You have to control it.” And then he reminded him, again, to hold the shofar slightly to the right.

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